Scotland men’s and women’s teams are preparing for a return to international rugby. First up is completing the Six Nations campaigns that were postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Gregor Townsend’s side, who recorded wins over Italy and France in rounds three and four of the Six Nations Championship earlier this year, will face Georgia at Murrayfield today.
That will be the third time inside a year Scotland will have faced the Lelos, having won Rugby World Cup warm-up matches in Tbilisi (44-10) and Edinburgh (36-9).
Townsend’s side will then look for their first win on Welsh soil since 2002 when they face Wayne Pivac’s side at Parc y Scarlets on 31 October.
Scotland's women, meanwhile, saw their Women’s Six Nations campaign heavily impacted by the pandemic, and still have three matches to play.
After a narrow defeat to Ireland (18-14) in their opening match earlier in the year, the arrival of Storm Ciara forced their clash with England to be postponed, and then moved from its original venue of Scotstoun in Glasgow to Murrayfield.
Scotland put up a brave fight but were beaten 53-0 and then had their fixture in Italy postponed as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak in the Lombardy region, where the game had been due to be played. Subsequent fixtures against France and Wales were postponed after a member of the squad tested positive for coronavirus.
As the tournament now returns, the side will face France on 24 October, before travelling to Wales the following week. Scotland, who have gone through a coaching change during the lay-off, with Bryan Easson replacing Philip Doyle, will round off their campaign in Italy.
Easson will be keen to get his tenure off to a good start as Scotland look to build up to the Rugby World Cup 2021 qualifiers later in the year.
Preparing for Georgia 🏉 pic.twitter.com/yowrTAPIsb— Scottish Rugby (@Scotlandteam) October 22, 2020
Excitement builds for the Autumn Nations Cup
When the Six Nations concludes, Townsend’s side will embark on the inaugural Autumn Nations Cup, where they have been drawn in a pool alongside Italy, France and Fiji.
First up for Scotland on 14 November is a return to Rome, where they recorded a 17-0 win in February thanks, in part, to a sublime solo try from captain Stuart Hogg. They will also be looking to extend their winning run against Italy to nine matches, a run that stretches back to February, 2015.
Next up, Scotland return to Murrayfield as France – who haven’t won in the Scottish capital since 2014 – will look to avenge the 28-16 loss in March that denied them the opportunity of a Grand Slam.
Scotland’s final game in the pool phase will see them come up against Fiji, whose squad includes Glasgow Warriors’ Leone Nakarawa and Mesulame Dolokoto, as well as Edinburgh back-row Mesu Kunavula. The Flying Fijians also have some familiar faces in the coaching box when the sides meet on 28 November, with ex-Scotland head coach Vern Cotter now in charge and Scotsman Richie Gray among his backroom staff.
An experienced men’s squad
Townsend has named a 40-man squad for the Autumn Nations Cup, including three uncapped players. Edinburgh wing Duhan van der Merwe and Glasgow Warriors prop Oli Kebble both join the squad for the first time after qualifying on residency grounds, while Harlequins’ Scott Steele is also among the squad.
Finn Russell is also restored and is in line to win his 50th cap on his next appearance, while fellow British and Irish Lion Sean Maitland may also reach a half-century of international appearances.
The squad, which will be captained again by Hogg, includes 896 caps in total (527 in the forwards, and 369 for the backs), while there are 14 players from each of Edinburgh Rugby and Glasgow Warriors, and 12 Exiles included.
Easson’s first selection
Easson, who was appointed to replace Doyle after the Irishman stood down for medical reasons, will be looking to an experienced core group of players during the campaign.
Back at Scotstoun 🏠— Scottish Rugby (@Scotlandteam) October 21, 2020
Scotland head to the training pitch in preparation for Sunday's @Womens6Nations match against France at Scotstoun Stadium (kick-off 2.20pm) - live on @bbcalba. pic.twitter.com/M5SmmpiHdu
Chloe Rollie, the Harlequins Women full-back, was among the tries in her first game of the Allianz Premier 15s season, while her club colleague, number eight Jade Konkel, provides Scotland with a powerful ball carrying option.
Midfield pairing Helen Nelson and Lisa Thomson were in good form pre-lockdown and will be ones to watch for Easson’s side, while up front, back-row Rachel Malcolm has taken to the captaincy role since being appointed by former coach Doyle.
The Scottish set-piece has improved in recent times, thanks in part to the work of hooker Lana Skeldon, who is one to watch. As well as fulfilling her front row duties, she can often be found lining up kicks at goal.
Eyes on a place at Rugby World Cup 2021
Scotland's women have not been to a Rugby World Cup since 2010, and will face Ireland, Italy and the winner of the Rugby Europe Championship – with the remaining fixtures (Spain vs Russia and Spain vs Netherlands) still to be rearranged after they were recently postponed.
The first qualification match for Easson’s side – against Italy – will double up as the final match of their Six Nations campaign, while the remainder of the fixtures have yet to be determined.
The side will be doing everything they can to end their decade-long wait for a place in New Zealand.